No Explanation Required! A Woman’s Guide to Assert Your Confidence and Communicate to Win at Work by Carol Sankar
Women have been left out of leadership opportunities due to stereotyping and their societal conditioning to stay quiet and select service-centered careers such as teaching, nursing or being an assistant. Leadership expert Carol Sankar explains that women limit their potential by over-explaining, over-apologizing and not speaking up about their value. Though she doesn’t address systemic patriarchal issues, Sankar offers concrete examples and helpful talking points as she explains how to communicate assertively and attain the high-level opportunities you deserve.
- Stereotypes and prejudice keep women from reaching the executive suite.
- Create an alter-ego such as Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce to gain the confidence to speak up.
- Beware of self-limiting communication and adopt a businesslike appearance.
- Focus on gaining respect instead of chasing likability.
- Avoid a passive communication style and stop over-apologizing.
- Respond professionally, not emotionally, to negativity or crisis.
- Don’t over-explain.
- Advocate your value, and create a network that supports your progress to a senior position.
No Explanation Required Book Summary
Stereotypes and prejudice keep women from reaching the executive suite.
When author Carol Sankar was a child, she told a teacher she wanted to become a federal judge. The teacher chastised her for harboring such an unrealistic wish. Sankar changed her answer and said she wanted to be a teacher to avoid further scoldings and persecution from her peers.Society normalizes certain career choices – such as nursing, teaching or being a receptionist or assistant – as women-centered, thus perpetuating the stereotype that a woman’s job is to serve others. The shortage of women in other careers reflects the fear women may feel about asking for opportunities outside the service-oriented norm.
“Women made up only 7.4% of the Fortune 500 in 2020. Only 37 women are represented at the top. ” (Fortune magazine)
This hesitation to speak up also has its roots in social conditioning that tells women to be nice. The “nice girl” is often passive, compliant, servile and outwardly pleasant. This stereotype boxes women an image of quiet servitude based on norms and expectations that ultimately affect women’s socioeconomic well-being and sustain the gender pay gap.If you don’t speak up and advocate your worth, people will perceive you as someone who does not have valuable input to offer and is uninterested in leadership or unsuited for it.To break away from biased perceptions of females, recondition the nice-girl lessons of your past and retool your approach to communication from passive to assertive. Make your voice heard with these strategies:
- Make sure your company implements a universal policy of supporting all voices – Speak to your manager or to HR.
- Finish your points when speaking – Always keep going if someone interrupts you.
- Stand up – Physically make your presence known.
- Never apologize before you speak – Apologizing suggests a lack of authority and makes you vulnerable to interruptions.
- Be an ally to other women – Help them get their voices heard.
- Don’t over-practice – Be informed and relaxed.
Learning to speak up takes courage and confidence because society often fights women who want to make their voices heard.
Create an alter-ego such as Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce to gain the confidence to speak up.
Taking on the alter ego of Sasha Fierce allows singer Beyoncé, a leading figure in popular music, to achieve peak confidence without feeling judgment or criticism. Your alter ego, the best version of yourself, can protect you from your insecurities while allowing you to achieve your goals. Projecting an alter ego complete with mind-set, body language and stand-up personality can give you a catalyst for mastering assertive communication. Create your alter ego in four steps:
- Know your goals – Determine where you want to go in your career and create a list of people your alter ego will network with to help you get there.
- Mirror the image – To attract leadership opportunities, dress like the ideal, confident women you admire.
- Build the personality – Act and speak like an executive.
- Walk the walk – Find the courage to be your alter ego and separate yourself from your insecurities. Highlight your best attributes.
An alter ego makes you free to change how decision-makers and executives perceive you.
Beware of self-limiting communication and adopt a businesslike appearance.
Showing up for a job interview wearing yoga pants and a messy bun tells potential employers that you are unorganized, sloppy and unprofessional. How you present yourself – nonverbally and verbally – will affect how people perceive your abilities and leadership potential.
“You will attract leadership opportunities only if you are perceived as a leader.”
Align your appearance, body language and communication style with those of successful decision-makers. To avoid self-limiting communication:
- Steer clear of phrases like, “I think”, “I want to try” or “I’m new” – That create a perception of inexperience and lack of preparation.
- Don’t say “they are” – Instead, say “I am.” Speak in the first person to promote yourself and spotlight your capabilities.
- Stop waiting for someone else to start speaking – Effective leaders make the first move. Start the conversation to show that you can take initiative.
Nonverbal communication is the root of building trust. To increase your credibility:
- Make eye contact – Keep your head up and look people in the eye when speaking.
- Control your posture – Don’t slouch or slump. Erect posture can shift your energy and mind-set and make you feel more empowered.
- Use a power pose – Standing up with your hands on your hips or on the table or throwing your hands up in celebration creates a perception of assertive confidence.
- Make a great first impression – Dress professionally. Exude leadership from the start.
Positive perceptions build respect in the workforce. When people respect you, the nice girl image and other harmful stereotypes can’t hold you back.
Focus on gaining respect instead of chasing likability.
The author learned a valuable lesson about pursuing likability early in her career. A seemingly good-natured couple outmaneuvered Sankar on a real estate deal by exploiting her desire to be well-liked. They went behind her back, sold the property and cut Sankar out of the profits. Because she focused on being liked, she blindly trusted people who had ill intentions.
Being liked will not further your career, but gaining respect by setting boundaries will. To articulate clear intentions that build other people’s trust in your abilities, take three steps:
- Maintain a standard for how people address you – Avoid de-individualizing nicknames like “sweetie,” “sis” or “honey.” Tell people how to address you, whether by your first name or surname.
- Prioritize your day around productivity – Make lists, prioritize emails, create relationships over lunch, be approachable, work quietly and take the lead whenever possible.
- Reclaim your time – Set a standard of punctuality to make sure others recognize the value of your time. Keep your boundaries non-negotiable.
Implement your boundaries and expectations in a manner that shows people your value and professional capacity in three steps:
- Make yourself a true asset to your company and generate respect for your work – Decision-makers will take notice for future promotions.
- Set realistic expectations around your capabilities – Give yourself the space to deliver your highest quality work.
- Stay in your lane – Focus on what you’re good at and keep developing your expertise.
Avoid a passive communication style and stop over-apologizing.
Sankar worked from home during the pandemic. Her niece and nephew occasionally interrupted her work. When her nephew wanted her attention, he came in and stated, “Excuse me,” and then asked his question directly. When her niece interrupted, she started with, “I’m sorry to bother you, Auntie.”
Women consistently apologize to avoid being judged, to gain acceptance, to show modesty and to get people to like them. However, over-apologizing creates the perception that you are uncertain and indecisive and, therefore, not executive material. Break the apology habit in three critical steps:
- Recognize the routine centered around the apology – Notice your habits and catch yourself before you apologize.
- Identify what is driving you to say, “I’m sorry” – Are you feeling overwhelmed or ignored? Consider whether apologizing achieves the reward you seek.
- Isolate the cue – Write down the triggers that make you feel you should apologize, and address them.
Replace apologizing with two new habits:
- Emotional freedom technique (EFT)/tapping – Repeat affirmations such as, “There is nothing to apologize for” while tapping meridian points on the body. Challenge your anxious urge to impulsively apologize.
- Use the “great gratitude response” – Shift from “I’m sorry” to “Thank you.” Instead of saying, “I’m sorry for being late,” say, “Thank you for waiting for me.”
Avoid using passive prepositions. Saying “because” splits your decision from your explanation and leaves you susceptible to people pushing you around. If you offer no overt explanation, you leave no room for further discussion or argument.Use such prepositions only to create value or provide evidence to support what you’re asking for during an opportunity-oriented conversation. Determine if the information that follows the word “because” adds value to your work or highlights an insecurity.
Respond professionally, not emotionally, to negativity or crisis.
Have you interacted with a negative, angry or difficult person at work and found yourself mirroring their volatile energy? You can’t control the chain of people who may connect you to executive success; however, you can control your reactions to those who are negative or dismissive. Respond to them in ways that highlight your self-control and leadership qualities. Apply these four tactics:
- Recognize your triggers – Understand the personal issues that may cause you to react impulsively.
- Always pause before responding – Allow yourself time to process anxiety or anger before speaking. Control your tone and language.
- Avoid passive-aggressive or patronizing responses – Don’t use phrases such as, “Per my last email.”
- Think long term – Analyze the cost and benefit of any response in terms of your long-range goals.
Respond to challenging situations effectively in four steps:
- Don’t rush – Craft your words and redact any emotional language.
- Remain on topic – This helps you avoid unforeseen triggers.
- Avoid passive language – Don’t apologize, minimize yourself or let an aggressor affect your tone.
- Use silence – Not every post, email or negative comment needs a response. Silence empowers you and shows others they cannot provoke you.
Offering a minimal, thoughtful response helps you break the habit of saying too much and undermining your message.
Mary is about to leave work when her manager asks if she would like to join her co-workers for drinks. Feeling guilty about not wanting to participate, Mary launches into an elaborate explanation about needing to get home and cook. Over-sharing makes her decision seem optional, undermines her confidence, and leaves room for her manager to dictate changes in her decision and her behavior.
“Over-explaining is a form of apologizing. We over-explain everything while undervaluing our contributions as leaders.”
Drop this unnecessary narrative and keep your responses short and simple. To that end, use concise language. When you keep any explanations brief, others will perceive you as a confident, productive leader. Have faith in your abilities; saying yes or no is sufficient.
Advocate your value, and create a network that supports your progress to a senior position.
A bakery whose cake appeared in a list of “Oprah’s Favorite Things” 10 years ago still uses that clout to advertise its cakes because bragging about your accomplishments leads to more opportunities and promotions.
“Bragging is an effective tool to ensure decision-makers are aware of who contributes exceptional value and exemplifies leadership potential.”
Effective bragging enables you to:
- Highlight your achievements – Present relevant examples of your great work, not as a competitive tool, but as pertinent evidence to gain the opportunities you deserve.
- Share your good reviews – Showcase that others think well of you.
- Make your accomplishments last for your entire career – Their value is always relevant.
- Use the merits you bring to the company as a bargaining tool – Your achievements help you climb the corporate ladder.
- Speak up consistently – You want the promotion gatekeepers to take notice.
Never wait for an invitation for a promotion or opportunity. You are no longer the helpless princess trapped in the proverbial tower of gender stereotypes. Use your new assertive communication tools to find your voice and empower your journey into the executive-level job you deserve.
About the Author
Carol Sankar founded The Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership. An R&D advisor and an investor, she trains women in negotiation and writes and speaks on leadership.